Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Do I Have to Like You to Love the Book--a Meditation on "The Believers"

Our current Brookfield manager and soon-to-be buyer for Mequon's Next Chapter Bookshop (Dave) knows my taste pretty well. So when he suggested I drop everything and read Zoe Heller's new novel, The Believers, I did just that.

It's the story of one dysfunctional family in New York whose precarious ties are unraveled by the patriarch's stroke. It's funny and emotional both, with a touch of social satire, well structured and intelligently plotted. You should know I love these kinds of books; perhaps the best known of late is still The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen, but I'd also suggest When We Were Bad, by Charlotte Mendelson, and All We Ever Wanted was Everything, by Janelle Brown.

The story jumps from perspective to perspective, but the center of the story is Audrey and here is Heller's genius. The prologue is set early 60's at a London party. Audrey is smart, insecure, dating a loser and just introduced to Joel, the American lawyer with big ideas. In just ten pages, you want the world for her.
Jump 40 years. Audrey is shrill, manipulative, and all-around unpleasant. She mistreats everyone around her--friends, family, the domestic help. How the heck are we supposed to care about her? It takes several hundred pages for us to be won back, not to love her, but at least to understand her.

Heller plays similar games with Audrey's two daughters, making them alternately sympathetic and exasperating as the novel changes perspective. Pretty darn smart, and despite being a comedy (as the equally unlikeable Trixie Tang says on the cartoon The Fairly Oddparents, "Comedy is the lowest form of entertainment. Next to animation."), it should get some great press. Here's the pre-pub writeup in the New York Times.

Heller's not coming to Milwaukee but she is on tour. Here are her stops at independents:

Friday, March 06, 2009
6120 LaSalle Ave. Oakland, CA

Saturday, March 07, 2009
51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA

Monday, March 09, 2009
409 Railroad Ave. Danville, CA
For tickets 925-837-7337

Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Book Soup
8818 Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Skylight Books
1818 N. Vermont Ave, Los Angeles CA

Friday, March 13, 2009
Books and Books Coral Gables
265 Aragon Ave Coral Gables, FL

There's also one event at a New York B&N. Considering how New Yorkish the book is, I'm surprised there aren't more readings, but since she does live there, they can be scheduled later. You can check Harper's site for more.

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